1. Information about Function Questions

TOEFL Listening Function questions ask test takers to identify the meaning of a statement in a particular context. The meaning of the sentence can vary depending on the situation in which it was used. That is to say, the statement often has a surface or literal meaning that is different from its meaning in its current context.

The statements often include slang or idiomatic expressions, and the meaning is often affected by the way that the speaker says the statement. The speaker may use one of several rhetorical functions including sarcasm/irony, redirection, correction/clarification, implied/indirect questions and requests, and rhetorical questions. These are used to direct, recommend, complain, agree/disagree, question, or confirm.

The question will replay an excerpt of the conversation or lecture that contains the statement and then just the statement itself. There will be no written text provided.

There is typically one Function question per passage, but sometimes there are none or even two. Function questions are easy to recognize because they are usually written as follows:

Listen again to part of the lecture. Then answer the question.

  • Why does the professor say this:  “To explain …”
  • What does the student mean when he says this: “He knows …”

2. TOEFL Listening Function Question Example

Here is an excerpt from a passage and its Function question:

Q. Listen again to part of the conversation. Then answer the question.

Female Student

Oh, yes. And, I have! You said that our artists had to work during the latter half of the 1800s or the earlier half of the 1900s, correct?


Yes, that is the period that Art History 305 focuses on.

Female Student

Well, then the one I have chosen fits the bill. His name was Francisco Soria Aedo. He was active from around 1920 until his death in 1965.


What does the student mean when she says this: Well, then the one I have chosen fits the bill.

(A) She knows that the artist was active during the correct time period.

(B) She is glad that she selected an artist that they covered in Art History 305.

(C) She understands why the artist’s paintings are considered to be so valuable.

(D) She thinks that the artist was not appreciated during his lifetime.

The correct answer is (A) because in this context “fit the bill’ is an idiom that means to be exactly the right person or type of thing for a particular situation. The student asked the professor, “our artists had to work during the latter half of the 1800s or the earlier half of the 1900s, correct?” After the professor confirms this, she states that her choice of artist fits that time period.

(B) is incorrect because neither person mentioned whether the artist was actually covered in the class.

(C) is incorrect because valuable fits a different meaning of bill that is money to be paid.

(D) is incorrect because the student mentioned when the artist was active, but she said nothing about his popularity.

3. Notes from the Test Developer

Function questions are common for both conversations and lectures, but they are easier to write for conversations because they are a constant exchange between speakers.

In a lecture, there are only a few exchanges between the professor and students, so there are fewer places to make Function questions. Sometimes professors make comments that work for a Function question without an interruption, but they are less common.

When writing Function questions, I will often deliberately write a statement that will work for the question as I write the passage. All of the answer choices must contain words that were used in the lecture or conversation, or are related to those terms, otherwise they do not make effective distractors. Some of them will directly contradict the passage, while others will state meanings that do not fit the ideas that were expressed.

For Function questions, I often include words that are related to the terms in the statement, but they are incorrect for the context like answer choice (C) in the example.

4. Advice to Test Takers

I would advise test takers to do a few things when they need to solve a Function question. First, keep in mind that you need to determine the meaning of the statement based upon the context it was used in and not the literal meaning of the words. Second, if you are unsure which answer is correct, use the process of elimination.

Some answer choices may be more obviously wrong than others and easier to rule out. So, look for any answers that present information that is incorrect or does not make sense in the context, or that state illogical meanings for the statement. Finally, the answer choices are meant to sound like plausible reasons to make the statement, so you may be unable to decide between two answer choices. In that case, guess.

Remember that you do not get points deducted for wrong answers in TOEFL. This is true for all questions so if you don’t know the answer or if you don’t have time to actually solve the question, guess. In addition, you will only get to hear the lecture or conversation once, but the answers will be presented in the talk in the same order as the questions.

Therefore, I recommend that you read the questions before the recording starts and answer the questions as you listen to the lecture or conversation.

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